In what ways were women involved in the protests inEgypt?
Women were involved in every aspect of this revolution: in confrontations onthe front line, in confrontations with the security forces, organising, writingslogans, shouting, sleeping in Tahrir Square during the sit-ins... Some womenwere there throughout the 18 days of the protests.
Women are also among the martyrs of this movement. Women were killed by thesecurity forces. Some women were also arrested and detained.
The majority of the women involved were young women, but there were women ofall ages and all walks of life. For example housewives who had never beeninvolved in this type of action before, came to protest with their children,activists from all the political movements, from the Muslim brotherhood tocommunists, participated in the demonstrations.
Members of our organisation were active in the protests, as individuals, wedidn’t go to the demonstrations as the “New Woman Foundation”. But when wespoke with people, they knew we were from NWF. I was in Tahrir Square every dayand I slept in the square for several nights.
Women and men were comrades in the protests. This was an incredible,incredible time in Egypt. Millions of people were gathered in the same place.And women were not afraid. We witnessed no instances of sexual harassment forexample. There was a sense of complete respect, complete support, and completesolidarity towards the women. Women, particularly the younger ones, slept fordays in the square.
Were there any chants or demands specifically relating to women’srights during the protests?
No, there was nothing specific to any group, there were only the demands ofthe revolution. Everybody was supporting the same cause: an end to the regime,the overthrow of Mubarak and the establishment of a civil government. This isimportant. When someone shouted a slogan which was too political or tooreligious for example, everyone would chant “one hand, one hand”, and peoplereturned to chanting the general slogans on which everyone agreed.
Was there media coverage of women’s participation in theprotests?
The media showed women, but they interviewed men more often than women. Themajority of those who were invited on talk shows were men.
How are women participating in the politicaltransition?
Women are being ignored! For example, the Constitutional Committee, whichwas created to revise some of the articles of the Constitution, doesn’t have asingle woman member.
But we are mobilising. Several groups issued a statement denouncing theabsence of women on the Committee. A Coalition of 12-14 feminist organisationshas been formed, which has stressed that women must be represented in everyaspect of the process and in all the decision making bodies that are beingestablished.
There has been a call on Facebook for a demonstration of a million women andmen on 8 March (International Women’s Day). Some other, newer associations ofwomen have the feeling that they are being left out of the process. We areworking with them and I hope that they will use this event as an opportunity tohave their voices heard.
What are your main demands for the transitiongovernment?
A new government! A democratic government, that has integrity andindependence, not the current transition government which is a “patchworkgovernment”. We are calling for a civil presidential council to be establishedimmediately, which should form a civil government and a constitutionalcommittee, responsible for drafting a new constitution. We need a newconstitution!
The constitutional committee should be composed of people from a wide rangeof backgrounds. Women and young people must be represented on the committee.Women and young people were the driving force behind this revolution.
We are calling for equal and fair representation of women and young peoplein all representative bodies, from the local committees and councils to thenational parliament.
We are calling for freedom of expression, starting with the freedom to formpolitical parties, independent syndicates, unions, NGOs, and civil societyorganisations.
We are calling for those involved in the repression of demonstrations andthe killings to be tried. We want those responsible for terrorizing ourcitizens, for opening the prisons, and for all the crimes conducted during thefirst 18 days of the revolution to be tried. We want a transparent trial forall those involved in corruption in Egypt. We want all the symbols of theregime, not just Mubarak or his assistants, but all of those who have beeninvolved in the corruption to be tried.
We are calling for the freezing of the assets of Mubarak and all othersymbols of the regime. We are pushing the government to take action in thisrespect.
We are calling for the liberation of all protesters who have beenarbitrarily arrested. Arrests by the military police are still taking placetoday and that needs to end.
We are calling for all those responsible for cutting off the internet,telephone and media communications to stand trial. We call for those, inparticular in Egyptian television, who tried to distort and conceal informationfrom the Egyptian people, to be held to account.
The military council (currently running the country) is calling forparliamentary and presidential elections and for the Constitution to be amendedwithin 6 months. This is a real problem because we fear that those responsiblefor organising elections and reforming the constitution will be from the mainexisting parties: the National Democratic Party, which is the party of theprevious regime, and the Muslim Brotherhood. We don’t want this. We want longterm change.
We want a deeper reflection on the new Constitution and what we want for anew Egypt, and this will take a while. It is not to be rushed. Under thecurrent laws, we cannot even form new political parties. We don’t want a newgovernment that is an extension of the previous regime!
Are there groups other than women’s associations supporting demandsfor the protection of women’s rights ?
Actually, no other groups raise the issues of women’s rights on their own,but when we discuss them they agree with us. When we met, for example, with themilitary council, no one raised these demands, but no one actually raised anydemands relating to any particular political group. Until now, everything hasbeen focused on the transition, because we feel that nothing is moving.
Could you tell us what you think these recent developments will meanfor women’s rights? What are your hopes and fears in this regard?
My hopes are that if we really work, if we can really use this opportunity,the situation of women in Egypt will generally get a better. I think there arepossibilities, real possibilities, that we can achieve a modern civilgovernment and a parliamentary democracy.
If we move towards this and we move towards greater respect for freedom ofassociation, including for professional and workers unions and NGOs, then thisshould allow women to participate more effectively in all areas of public lifeand will provide them with the opportunity to give their perspectives onhealth, the economy, the environment, working conditions, etc. We feel thischange of atmosphere will provide us with better forums for advocating our forour rights.
Previous claims that women’s voices should not be heard, all of this hasbeen smashed during the revolution, smashed! Because women were there, withtheir beautiful voices, shouting against the regime. Women were there, sleepingon the ground in the streets, and this was appreciated by everyone.
But I think the desire to speed the process along and to rush things may beto the detriment of women. There is a risk we could end up with politicalparties or parliamentarians who are not really concerned about women and whomight even be against women’s rights. That is why we are calling for theprocess to take time.
Finally, could you give us your perspective on the ongoing events inthe rest of the region and their potential implications for women’srights?
The Tunisians did a marvelous thing in starting this movement and Egyptianshad in important impact in proving that it can happen. Most Arab countries arevery autocratic and very oppressive. I think that this is a real beginning of aprocess of deconstruction and of rebuilding, particularly with the youth usingthe internet. It’s incredible, it is incredible! It is an era of change.
Nothing is going to go back... It is a marvelous feeling, that you areactually witnessing the making of history. And I am glad that I lived toexperience that feeling.
And the young people are really determined, they are really mature! They areresisting their own “iconisation”, and they are trying to act, they may lacksome experience but they will learn! They are fast learners and I am glad thatthey have learned actually out of the usual circles, outside of politicalparties. They have their creativity and their resilience and that is veryimportant. I think that young people are generally more in favour of realdemocracy, more willing to change and have greater respect for women.